Happy Almost Thanksgiving, faithful HitFix readers. It’s Turkey Time for “Saturday Night Live,” with returning host Anne Hathaway and musical guest Florence + The Machine. Hathaway’s appearance two years ago was a surprising highlight of the season, showing off her musical and comedy chops in a way that, for instance, “Bride Wars” did not. She’s here to promote her upcoming nudity (I mean, nuanced performance) in “Love And Other Drugs,” so look for fellow “Drugs” star and “SNL” favorite Jake Gyllenhaal to stop by the show tonight. Will Hathaway’s return performance exceed her first? Will I rage against Florence’s Machine? Only one way to find out.

On with the recap!

“The Rachel Maddow Show”: After barely being in last week’s edition, Abby Elliott opens tonight as Maddow. Her impression is pretty spot-on, though it doesn’t seem like a lot of people in the audience actually know who Rachel Maddow is. Best lines: Maddow’s dig at Pelosi (“A woman who always looks like she’s watching someone NOT use a coaster”) and Kenan Thompson’s Charlie Rangel’s confusion towards Maddow’s gender (“Hello, young man!”). The sketch didn’t have much continuity other than using Maddow to link three separate political stories. That being said, each segment was individually funny on its own. Second strong cold open in two weeks. [Grade: B+]

“Monologue”: Hathaway starts right in on the press’ obsession with her nudity in her upcoming movie, which means one thing: SHE READS MY RECAPS! Oh, wait. Maybe not. The monologue involves various male members of the cast trying to “rewrite” nudity into sketches, which made me not so much laugh as contemplate “Saturday Night Live Cinemax.” Not the worse place to mentally go, but probably not the intended result. [Grade: C-]

“TSA”: Short but sweet commercial about all the sexiness that can ensue from the newest airport regulations. At four minutes, this would have died. At one minute? Great. I’m all for sketches/premises that don’t overstay their welcome. [Grade: B]

“The Miley Cyrus Show”: It’s baaaaaaaaack. (Look for Hathaway to warble about sparkling apple juice in about an hour, people.) Hathaway busts out her Katie Holmes, and it’s fairly devastating. (However, not as devastating as the image of Miley Cyrus as Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct.”) Still, it’s one of the show’s two dozen Mad Libs sketches: keep the same framework (bad monologue, weird set of photos, guest, bad screen test) and just plug in new words. Still, for Hathaway’s Holmes, plus Vanessa Bayer’s more confident approach second time through, it was a slight tick up from the previous iteration. [Grade: B-]

“Free Thanksgiving Dinner”: Oh for the love of God, it’s my least favorite recurring Kristen Wiig character, Penelope. Someone pass me a pumpkin pie so I can throw it at my television. I’m sure the “SNL” props department had a blast constructing sight gags for this sketch, but honestly, I just wrote my letter to Santa asking for Penelope to never appear on my television again. Sadly, the crowd’s positive reaction means I’m getting coal again. [Grade: D-]

“Royal Engagement”: Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip as secret hooligans harassing Kate Middleton? Why not? Bring it on! The sketch wisely eschews insider information about British politics and plays it broadly, focusing on cultural stereotypes versus foreign hierarchy. Added bonuses: Hathaway busting out her British accent (pretty flawless) and Samberg’s awesomely awful Prince William wig. After all, I’m pretty sure he stole it directly from the future king’s head. [Grade: A-]

Florence + The Machine play an obscure, little known B-side no one has ever heard before. OK, I’m kidding. They play “Dog Days Are Over,” with three kabuki/zombie hybrid dancers accompanying them onstage. (Zombukis? Kabubies?) By now, you’re insanely sick of this song or have already welcomed your new melodic overlords. Me? I give it props for still sounding like nothing else on the radio right now. Originality like that gets good grades in my books, even if it’s not my personal cup of tea. [Grade: B+]

“Weekend Update”: Packed Update, y’all. Bobby Moynihan’s Guy Fieri always amuses me, even if it means I can never watch “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” ever again. Winner, winner, Moynihan dinner. Seth Myers’ “Come On, Dictionary” segment mocks The New Oxford Dictionary’s decision to make “refudiate” Word of the Year in lieu of the “Really???!!!???” segment pretty effectively. On the other hand, Jason Sudeikis’ “Four Loko” creator Chris Hunter was just a rip-off of this classic “SNL” sketch. At the end, Jay Pharaoh steps to the mic to drop a hip-hop Thanksgiving song, which is a flimsy but welcome excuse to have him drop impressions of Jay-Z, Drake, and Biggie Smalls. Apparently, there’s no one that Pharaoh can’t do, and yet the show hasn’t begun to employ it effectively inside of live sketches. When they do, watch out. [Grade: B+]

“TCM Essentials”: A series of “The Wizard of Oz” deleted scenes? Sounds like a decent premise for a sketch, though Fred Armisen’s weather vane largely annoyed rather than amused. While I praised the “SNL” props department earlier, the costume department really knocked it out of the park with this one. Also? Hathaway’s Judy Garland was pretty outstanding. She doesn’t need to be starring in romantic comedies: she needs to be starring in comedies, straight up. Lord knows she can. As for the sketch itself: a mixed bag, all told. Too bad, as the bones for a fantastic sketch were there. [Grade: C+]

“WXPD New York News”: It sounds like “Bronx Beat,” but is actually a sketch about an all-too-old news reporter investigating a robbery. If you think Bill Hader hitting people in the face with a microphone is funny, well, then this sketch was the Greatest Thing in the History of the World for you. Not my personal bag, although it seemed to play pretty darn well over in Studio 8H. [Grade: C-]

“Mega Mart”: It’s funny when people die during Black Friday sales! Right? Right? Wrong. Just as the “Four Loko” segment was a rip-off of the classic Aykroyd/Bergen sketch, this was a smash and grab copy job from the more recent and slightly less classic (though still hysterical) “Underground Rock Minute” commercials. Too bad Ass Dan wasn’t working the door at Mega Mart, though Hathaway’s hopped-up, scrapbooking mama looking ready to fight any ne’er-do-wells. Started off horribly, picked up some steam, but never really took off. [Grade: C]

“Camel Tame”: Let’s just all agree this never happened, OK? [Grade: F]

Florence + The Machine are back, this time with “You’ve Got the Love,” the closing track on their album “Lungs.” Less Zombukis, more string players this time around. Love her voice something fierce: it’s expressive in the way that Thom Yorke’s voice is. Even if you don’t always know what she’s singing, you always know intuitively what she means. And I’ll take the latter over the former any day. [Grade: B+]

“Horse Play”: Wow, the recycling of old sketches is contagious. It’s Taylor Swift’s “Bunny Business” all over again (right down to Randy Newman starting this iteration as well). Either “SNL” thinks we have forgotten or we just couldn’t wait to see this series of musical impressions again. However, listing Cee-Lo’s “F#ck You” as “Gwyneth Paltrow’s Song from ‘Glee’” was fairly inspired, and I’m always up for a good Dolores O'Riordan ribbing. Nothing wrong with this sketch, but the constant, obvious leaning on old material tonight has finally broken me. [Grade: B-]

 

Final thoughts: a strong start to the show, with everything over the first hour save Penelope fairly strong. Unfortunately, all sketches post “Update” didn’t match the show’s energy and humor up until that point. And yes, the show ALWAYS recycles old material to some extent, either using old characters or sketches, but Lord they layed it on thick tonight, slapping a coat of paint on existing premises to try and fake something new in addition to the usually rehashing.

Standout sketch: Royal Engagement.

Worst sketch: Camel Lame.

A good overall show? Sure. Better than most this season? Yes. But that’s fairly faint praise. Of all the hosts this year, Hathaway was at least given the most to do, and not lost in the mix like so many hosts this year. She may not yet  perceived to be on the same tier as a Timberlake or a Hamm, but she deserves to be on the short lists of Must Have hosts for the show every year until she wears out her welcome all the same.

 

What did you think of Anne Hathaway’s second performance? Which of the SNL players do you think deserves more air time when the season returns in December? And did you miss not having a Digital Short this week? Leave your thoughts below!